South Africans need to keep talking

The critical thinking forum held in Cape Town became a review of the current issues in South Africa due to the postponement of the Sona. (Photos: David Harrison)

The critical thinking forum held in Cape Town became a review of the current issues in South Africa due to the postponement of the Sona. (Photos: David Harrison)

In partnership with Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, the Mail & Guardian hosted a Critical Thinking Forum at the Centre for the Book at the National Library of South Africa in Cape Town on February 9. The discussion came at the conclusion of an extraordinary week in South African politics. Amidst uncertainty over the fate of President Jacob Zuma, the state of the nation address was postponed. All the pomp and ceremony usually associated with the Sona was put on hold to allow the ANC to decide who exactly will lead South Africa until the next general election.

And while the uncertainty over the presidency was finally resolved this week, the swirl of political activity has left many South Africans confused about where the future of South Africa lies.

The panel hosted by M&G editor-in-chief Khadija Patel included academics Khaya Sithole, Sithembile Mbete, and Lukhona Mnguni. All agreed that despite the opposition welcoming the postponement of Sona, the prioritisation of an internal political party matter at the expense of the state sets a worrying precedent — a precedent that the opposition should be rallying against.

Mnguni was scathing of the manner in which the new ANC leadership appears to have foregone due process to oust Zuma, while Sithole surprised the room by saying he believes Zuma should not be recalled.

“I think I am one of the few people in South Africa who think president Zuma should not be recalled,” he said.

He went on to describe how the use of the ANC’s National Executive Committee process to recall Zuma from the presidency could well be used against Cyril Ramaphosa when the ANC next goes to an elective conference.

Mbete, meanwhile, said that the ANC’s reluctance to disclose its motivations for recalling Zuma was indicative of a greater malaise infecting South Africa.

So a forum that had originally been imagined to discuss Zuma’s pronouncement on the state of the nation became a review of the current issues in South Africa, with the discussion covering parliamentary process, constitutional reform, and the weaknesses of the opposition.

And while there were many takeaways from the event, one of the key points we are left with is: it is imperative we keep talking.